Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Mina vs. The Monsoon

Written by Rukhsanna Guidroz
Illustrated by Debasmita Dasgupta
Published December 1, 2018

Why we chose this book:
Instagram. I saw an image posted by Yali Books for an upcoming publication that was absolutely stunning. So, I wanted to know what the book was, then what Yali Books was. They are a children's book publisher focusing on South Asia. If you've followed me this far, then you know how I value books featuring characters of different backgrounds. And if you're a new reader, I hope you'll find some new favorites and enjoy our recommendations for books that foster intercultural understanding and appreciation. Yali Books provided a review copy.

Mom's Review

When the monsoon keeps Mina indoors and off the soccer field, she finds that her mother shares her passion for the sport, and that celebrating the monsoon and soccer needn't be mutually exclusive.

Where to start? Mina vs. The Monsoon has so much to offer! Upon first look, we see a story about a girl who feels that her mother doesn't understand her love of soccer. Her mother encourages her to celebrate the monsoon instead of focusing on her disappointment at being indoors. When Mina uncovers her mother's childhood soccer jersey, the two finally bond over a shared love of soccer. They celebrate the monsoon with samosas and a muddy soccer game.

Looking at another aspect, we can see a bit of life in a northern village in India; milk is delivered by bicycle, rain falls on a tin roof, and peacocks screech outside. All of this is simply background; I didn't point out differences, but I did ask T if he noticed anything different between how he and Mina live. He could find no significant differences, but he did point out that he likes her clothes, especially what she wears when she tries to dance the rain away.  T has been to Diwali celebrations at our local museum, so has seen multiple Indian dance performances; we were able to relate Mina's dancing to those dancers and to his own dancing. Readers can easily identify with Mina. It doesn't matter that she lives half a world away from us, her feelings and activities are the same as those of children everywhere, including T.

Mina vs. The Monsoon is an easily relatable story about a child's love of soccer that will resonate with readers in any country. Oh, and the art is awesome. I love the peacocks!

Son's Review
(Age: 3 and 1/2 years)

While reading:
Mom: Mina's elephant seems to help her. What helps you when you're upset?

Son: Doing something that's my favorite. That will ease away my upsetty.
Mom: Mina gets her milk delivered. Are there any deliveries that you like?

Son: The mail delivery, so I always get to see what kind of mail we get.
Mom: Do you like to dance? When?

Son: Sometimes. Ummm. Pretty much after dinner when we are cleaning up from the dinner.
Mom: She likes to play soccer every day. Is there something that you like to do every day?

Son: Pretty much after dinner every day I like to lie down with you and do a snuggle. Snuggly buggly.

After reading:
Mom: What if Mina were real? Would you want to be friends with her?

Son: Yeah. And I would tell her, "You can't stop the rain. The rain just goes and goes until it stops."

Mom: What would you want to do together?

Son: Put on my rain suit with her. We would both put on our rain suits. We would go outside in the rain. I would make mud cakes. They are fun.

Mom: Is there something you notice that is different from how we live?

Son: I only know she lives in India and we live in the United States. That's the only thing that's different.

Mom: Did you have a favorite part of the story?

Son: Can you show me the dancing picture? I think what she wears looks pretty. The different costumes she wears look pretty.

Mom: Have you ever seen dancers like these...

Son: The yimmy!
(He went to a Diwali celebration at the museum where there were several Indian dance performances.)

Son: Someday we should eat samosas. Where could we get samosas?

Mom: Udupi.

Son: What is Udupi? Is it a restaurant? I want to go to that restaurant!

Mom: Yes. And we will. Samosas are delicious!

Friday, December 7, 2018

Super Animal Powers

Written by Ryan Jacobson
Photographs by Stan Tekiela
Published October 11, 2016

Why we chose this book:
Adventure Publications included a review copy of this with a book we had requested. Superhero fan that he is, T wanted to read it immediately upon opening the box. He loves it and has had me and his Grammy read it to him innumerable times already.

Mom's Review

Jacobson and Tekiela use a fun format to teach animal superlatives and fascinating trivia.

Thanks to Super Animal Powers, the whole family now knows which animal can shoot blood out of its eyes (the horned lizard), and just how far T could shoot blood out of his eyes, if he had that power (across the living room). Did you also know that the dung beetle is the strongest animal for its size? And that if you had the peregrine falcon's speed, you could compete in NASCAR, without a car?

T loves everything about Super Animal Powers, and I love expanding my knowledge of curious animal characteristics. What sets this animal fact book apart from others we've read is its superhero component. A superhero with the same power as each animal is introduced, alongside an explanation of the extent of the power; it's proportional to a human, so a young audience can more easily grasp the magnitude of the animal's ability by relating it to their own. Also, at the bottom of each page there is an "Up next" preview about which T is enthusiastic; he insists that we always read it and loves to guess which animal comes next. Sometimes I can't resist being obnoxious and shouting out, "I know! I know!" That's what he gets if I have to read it back to back. ;) Who else likes to annoy their kids on occasion? We aren't too formal or serious in this house!

Son's Review 
(Age: 3 and 1/2 years)
We have a guest reviewer participating on this one, T's Grammy.

Grammy: Owls! You have those at the EcoTarium, don't you? They look furry.

Son: Um-hm. They look cute!

Grammy: The horned lizard -

Son, interrupting: Shoots blood out its eyes!

Grammy: What impressed you the most?

Son: The dung beetle. Both kids of bugs in there [dung beetle and tarantula]. And my other favorite guy is the one that shoots blood from its eyes. The chameleon.

Grammy: That's a horned lizard. I wonder where horned lizards live; I hope they don't live near me.

Son: I hope they don't live near us!

Grammy: Do you like the pictures?

Son: Yes. That one of the dung beetle. That looks like surely a superhero!

Mom: Which power would you want?

Son: I would like to be this one [the horned lizard]. So I could shoot it across the house!

Grammy: Who do you wish were in your woods?

Son: I'll tell you which one I'd want to be. The dung beetle. The horned lizard. I wish the horned lizard lived around here. I'd bring it inside so it would make a big mess for my mommy to clean up!
(Someone thinks he's being funny. Payback I guess for my previous obnoxiousness!)

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Children and the Whale

By Daniel Frost
Published in Europe: August 2018
International publication: November 6, 2018

Why we chose this book:
To read about children and animals in a setting quite different from our own. The more we read about this diverse world, the more we can understand and appreciate it! Little Gestalten provided a review copy.

Mom's Review

Incredibly beautiful pictures set in the Arctic - two children, icebergs, and Arctic fauna - accompany a powerful story of love and strength.

Around the fire one night, a father tells about seeing a bone-breaking creature who lives in the sea; although it has been decades since the last sighting, the son, Cuno, is determined to find this whale. When Cuno tires of watching the sea from a chunk of ice offshore, he takes his father's kayak to search further from home. His little sister, Aia, stows away, and Cuno is heartily displeased to find her. Even so, he panics when they become separated, feeling guilt and responsibility for his younger sibling. Miraculously, the whale appears, pushing the chunk of ice on which Aia is stuck. The whale guides them both home, and their bond is repaired.

The Children and the Whale tells a story of a boy who wants to spot the whale from his father's story, but must contend with a pesky little sister. Within this frame, the readers are treated to images of children who are at home in the snow, or kayaking among icebergs, or even exploring on their own. The implication that these young people are responsible and resourceful enough to be outside unsupervised speaks to a trust that I often feel is lacking in my everyday life. While I do think T is far too young to be kayaking in the Arctic, alone or otherwise, I do recognize the importance of independence. Allowing exploration of nature within safe parameters is something that I am trying to do more and more of myself. I don't have to be right next to him. It really is okay for him to hit a tree with a stick ten feet away from me while I rearrange rocks in our yard! And that is something that this book has me thinking about as an adult.

The other striking aspect of this book is the relationship between the brother and sister. At first we see a stereotypical little-sister-annoys-big-brother scenario. Once Aia is confronted with real danger, however, Cuno immediately regrets his treatment of her and is heartbroken by what happened. In the end, after the whale returns them home, we see that they are side by side and we are told that they watch for the whale together: a stark contrast to the start. This depiction of sibling dynamics may resonate with children who sometimes disagree with their brother or sister but love them unconditionally, even if not admittedly. Moreover, it reinforces the idea of positive sibling dynamics.

Son's Review
(Age: 3 and 1/2 years)

Son: I think their father is gonna be surprised since it didn't break their bones. It led them home.

Mom: I think so, too. I really liked seeing how they lived in a different place. What are they wearing?

Son: Arctic clothes.

Mom: That's right. And what kind of temperature do you think it is outside? Do you ever look like them?

Son: Cold. When I'm wearing my snow gear, yes.

Mom: Would you want to play with Cuno and Aia? What would you do with them?

Son: Yeah. Pretty much just explore with them.

Mom: Would you chase the whale like they did?

Son: Yeah.

Mom: If you could go hunting to see any animal, what would it be? Why would you want to see a dolphin?

Son: Mainly just a little dolphin. Because they're cute.

Mom: Do you have any advice for Cuno or Aia?

Son: My igvice is, "Don't be so mean to the green one."

Mom: That one's Aia. [She's dressed in a green snowsuit.]

Son: Don't be so mean to Aia.

Mom: What did you learn from this book?

Son: I learned that it's a bad thing to be mean to other people.

Mom: How did this book make you feel?

Son: I felt kinda sad because [Cuno] was being mean to that one [Aia]. I want to read it again. Did you really like it?

Mom: I did!

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Quiet Wyatt

Written by Tammi Sauer
Illustrated by Arthur Howard
Published September 25, 2018

Why we chose this book:
Since T was 2, his dad has been telling him stories about a character named Quiet Wyatt. He is not the same as the title character, but this title sure caught my attention. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt provided a review copy.

Mom's Review

A little boy steps outside his comfort zone to follow his conscience.

Quiet Wyatt is about a little boy who prefers the quiet. On a school trip, he is paired with Noreen, the self-proclaimed "Queen of Nature," who is anything but that. Because this is fiction, we can laugh at her antics. Wyatt quietly suffers through her attempts to trail blaze (through poison ivy), paddle a canoe (and drench him), and cast a fishing line (and snare only Wyatt). From the illustrations, he seems uncomfortable, but does nothing. Finally, when Noreen precipitates a rock slide with her singing, Wyatt must speak up or see her injured. Until this point, Wyatt has remained inside his comfort-zone of "quiet," whether it has truly been comfortable or not. At this point, however, he finds his voice. Wyatt warns Noreen, saves her with his expert ninja moves, and finds a happy balance between quietly remaining unnoticed and interacting with a new friend. The final depiction of Wyatt shows a happy child who has remained true to his introvert personality while appreciating the company of another.

The infusion of humor to this presentation of an introvert coping with an extrovert sweetens the message that risk-taking can be a good thing. It is only through speaking loudly (the risk) that Wyatt saves Noreen (a good thing). This is uncomfortable for him, as has his entire day with Noreen. How do we deal with discomfort? When is it good? When is it bad? While Quiet Wyatt does not necessarily answer these questions directly, it does a good job of showing one child's experience. From that, readers can extrapolate how they might benefit from trying new things, engaging with different individuals, or not. Readers may also view Wyatt's initial passivity as a poor example of how to respond to another person's actions. Overall, Quiet Wyatt is a fun read with many possible points of more serious discussion.

Son's Review
a moderately successful attempt to
teach T the "shhh" signal

(Age: 3 and 1/2 years)

While reading:
Son: Some guys are going to be kicked out of the yimmy [museum].

Mom: Why?

Son: Because they are talking and they're not allowed to talk. See? It says, "Shh. Be quiet."
Son, in response to Noreen's "fishing": That's not how to cast a line!

After reading:
Mom: What doe you think about Quiet Wyatt? What's the best part?

Son: I really liked the story. I liked the part where she was taking them to poison ivy.

Mom: Would you want to be friends with Noreen or Wyatt? What would you do together?

Son: I would want to be friends with both of them. Um. do a field trip with them. Like where they goed when they did a field trip.

Mom: Do you have any advice for Noreen?

Son: I do. I would say, "Listen to what you say." In the story Noreen is not listening to what she says. She's not doing the proper thing that she says. Isn't that an uh-oh? She's leading them into the poison ivy and singing by the quiet rocks sign. Isn't that bad?

Mom: It certainly turns out bad. Are you like Wyatt at all?

Son: I think I might be because I'm so into poison ivy.
(We found some into our yard, and T is really into looking at it, pointing it out, and warning people away from it.)

Mom: Do you want to be like Wyatt in any way?

Son: Yeah. I want to stay quiet, but I don't know how. I'm like a chatterbox.
(So not the response I expected. I thought he'd want to learn ninja skills like Wyatt.)

Mom: Is there anything else?

Son: Not particularly.

Mom: Who is this a good book for?

Son: I would say it's a good book for D. because he has a friend named J. and Wyatt has a friend called Noreen. To learn what you do with a friend.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Bees: A Honeyed History

By Piotr Socha
Text by Wojciech Grajkowski
Translated by Agnes Monod-Gayraud
Published March 28, 2017

Why we chose this book:
We came across the German edition of this in the summer, though with a different cover illustration. It is the illustrations that grabbed our interest, and the description that made it clear it was the type we aim to read. Abrams Books for Young Readers provided a review copy.

Mom's Review

If you don't think learning about the history of honeybees is exciting, then you haven't seen Piotr Socha's book: an oversized picture book with striking, cartoonish figures and minimal text featuring fascinating facts.

Starting with dinosaurs, moving on to cavemen who smoked bees out of their hives, and ending with how honey is harvested and honeybees are protected today, Bees: A Honeyed History is exactly what the title suggests. T loves to flip to favorite pages, which works out perfectly, as each two-page spread covers a single topic. T's favorite pages include the carved Polish beehives page (we have now promised him that if we are ever near Kluczbork, we will see the museum's collection there), the beekeepers' tools page (he likes to pick out the tools and have me read their uses), and the Greek gods page (T likes to point out Hermes, the trickster).

T and I now both know a wee bit about bee keeping. Although the knowledge of how medieval beekeepers kept bears away from hives won't be particularly useful to us, we are inspired to plant bee friendly plants in the yard come spring, and we can use the section on their favorite flowers as a guide. We also are determined to install several honeybee houses near those flowers; this was an idea I had toyed with when we moved, but we didn't manage to do it before the snow started coming. Who knows, maybe somewhere down the road we will even manage to have a hive or two. Then we can use some of those tools T loves pointing out and asking about!

Son's Review
(Age: 3 and 1/2 years)

Mom: Did you have a favorite part?

Son, pointing to Greek gods page: I did. It was this whole part.

Mom: Who is your favorite Greek god? Why?

Son: Hermes. Because I like when guys have wings.

Mom: What is something cool you learned about bees?

Son: I really liked this page [the Greek god page]. And what are they holding?

Mom: They are holding ambrosia.

Son: What is ambrosia?

Mom: It is honey.

Son: Why are they holding honey?

Mom: Because that's what they eat.

inside the car
Mom: Is there anything from this book that you want to do?

Son: Make bee cookies.

Mom: I have something I want to put in our garden...

Son: A bee house! Watch out. They sting!

Mom: But do honeybees want to sting us?

Son: No. When they sting, they die. They just want pollen from a flower.

Mom: For whom would this book be good?

Son: It would be good for G because bees are some yellow and yellow is a little bit orange. It is mixed with orange.

Son: Why was your favorite part that beekeepers [in medieval times] really wanted to take care of bees?

Mom: It was something new that I didn't know. I thought it was neat that the beekeepers had such an important job to take just the right amount of honey so that the bees wouldn't die.

outside the car

Thursday, November 22, 2018

This is the Chick

Written by Wendy Hartmann
Illustrated by Joan Rankin
Published January 2, 2018

Why we chose this book:
The cover caught T's eye, and when I read the synopsis, I saw that it was indeed right up our alley. Crocodile Books provided a review copy.

Mom's Review

A chain of events featuring African animals in their natural setting.

The whole story starts with a chick who lets out a peep, startling an elephant who in turn scares a kudu and so on until multiple animals are fleeing an imaginary monster (see image on right). The wise owl puts a stop to their silliness, telling them it was just a chick and that they should go back to bed. The pattern makes for fun shared reading; T got into the repetition quickly and enthusiastically.

What sets This is the Chick apart is the animals. While readers will recognize the elephant and the owl, the others may be unfamiliar, such as the kudu and the jackal. And this is part of what drew me to the book after T pointed out the "cover with the bird." Written by a Cape Town author, and including unfamiliar animals, This is the Chick would introduce us just a tiny bit more to Africa through the lens of a silly story. With acacia trees and a savannah setting, potentially exotic animals are normalized; young readers can embrace unfamiliar flora and fauna. As we read, T asked questions about acacia thorns and jackals, and pointed out what the animals were doing.  He was really drawn into this, and since reading this book, T has incorporated jackals into his imaginative play.

What beautiful way to learn cause and effect and to meet African animals!

Son's Review
(Age: 3 and 1/2 years)
Son, grinning, at the end of the book: I want to read it again!

Mom: Why? Is there something good about it?

Son: I just do. I like the monster, how he looks.

Mom: Is there really a monster?

Son, still grinning: No. I don't know what he is. What is he?

Mom: He is what they are all imagining together...Do you have a favorite animal yet?

Son: The monster. What is your favorite?

Mom: The kudu.

Son, smiling and turning the pages slowly: I turned to the starting.

After reading:
Son: How are they frightened?

Mom: They frightened each other. But what do they think is coming after them?

Son: A monster!

Mom: What advice would you give those animals?

Son: I would say, "Just don't think about a monster. Just try to not think about one." That's what I would say. That's what I would tell them.

Mom: What do you think of the animals?

Son: They're silly. They're silly that a monster's chasing them. They're silly animals.

Mom: What's your favorite animal? Why?

Son: The owl. He's cool.

Mom: If you could meet any animal-

Son, interrupting: Or the monster. I'll tell you what I would do if I met the monster. I would destroy the monster so they wouldn't have to worry about him.

Mom: What if you hear a "cheep" in the night?

Son: I wouldn't do anything.

Mom: What did you like about this story?

Son: I really think the monster is silly looking because he's part of all these animals. My favorite part is where the owl says, "Stop!"

Mom: Who might like this?

Son: I think someone who likes monsters and rangers and silly would like this book.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Silver Queen

The Silver Queen (Sovereign Book 2)
By Josie Jaffrey
Published October 17, 2018

Why I chose this book:
I could hardly wait for this after I read The Gilded King, which is the first book in the series. A review copy was provided by the author.

(There will be some spoilers in the interest of being able to write sense.)

The Silver Queen picks up right where The Gilded King left off. The Blue, where nobles drink the blood of human servants, is in shambles; nobles fight each other in the street over the remaining humans with clean blood. Julia, our human heroine, remains in the Blue after her love interest and noble left. After near exsanguination, she resolves to escape to the Red, where terrors lurk and freedom lies. Having successfully escaped with the help of Sol, the awakened King, Julia ventures into the Red where she meets other humans and, eventually, Lucas. Their reunion is believably awkward, the relationship now tenuous. Meanwhile, Cam and a band of Invicti successfully rescue the captive queen, Emmy. Traumatized from her imprisonment, she is not the queen all were expecting, until the very end of the book, which is what made the strongest impression on me.

The humor, the believability, the excitement: Everything about Jaffrey's writing in The Silver Queen enveloped me with such a feeling of naturalness that the outside world would away. Julia and Lucas's relationship, Cam and Felix's relationship, the political upheaval, and Emmy's rescue are all woven together in a compelling and exciting narrative. If you liked The Gilded King, then you should absolutely read The Silver Queen. And if you haven't read The Gilded King, and you like dystopian adventures with a bit of romance and that happen to feature vampires, then I'm betting you will like this series!

Days after finishing this, the ending retains a strong hold on me, and not just because of the surprise cliffhanger twist. It's the realized mythology of Emmy and Sol's relationship that is still on my mind. In both books, the mythology that surrounds the carving of Sol is recounted. When the queen returns, the king will awake; the carving is really the sleeping king turned to gold. And once the queen returns, they will reign together. The people do not really believe this, but we learn at the conclusion of the first book that it is not just a myth. At the conclusion of the second, we see that Emmy is weak, almost dying, until she is in proximity to Sol. Then, without even interacting with him, she finds incredible strength and the ability to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The clarity and truth of this final premise is impressed upon the reader: that we are able to face the hardest challenges when we have the support, even unspoken, of those we love and cherish.

The Gilded King is available for free download at present (November 20, 2018). Here's the link:
or on Amazon:


By Claude Ponti Translated by Alyson Waters Published May 22, 2018 Why we chose this book: I value stories from other cultures. I&#...